The Least Valuable Player – The Only Compelling Question in the National League
Asher Chancey, Baseball Evolution
November 14, 2005
In my mind, the National League MVP this season is not that compelling (see the above title). In truth, I believe that the award will go to Albert Pujols though Derrek Lee had the better season and the award rightfully belongs to Andruw Jones. Lee easily had the best offensive season in the NL, leading the league in average and OPS, and I hope he enjoys his Hank Aaron Award. Pujols could have won the award each of the last four years if not for Barry Bonds, and this year he would also deserve the award if not for Jones. But Andruw Jones came through big when his team was struggling. With the Nationals in first place at the mid-summer point, Jones caught fire after a slow start and re-invigorated the Braves. The award will probably, and finally, go to Pujols, but Jones deserves the award for what he meant to his team.
That having been said, the more compelling question in my mind, though, is not the Most Valuable Player, but rather the Least Valuable Player. Several players failed to come through this season, and did so spectacularly. Indeed, so many players failed so spectacularly that the most heated debate has to surround the Least Valuable Player. The true Least Valuable Player is the one that had a detrimental impact on his team's realistic chances for the post-season.
Lets have a look:
In 2005, Guzman was probably the worst everyday player in the major leagues in the last 20 years. On September 1st, he was hitting .195, and had to go on an absolute tear to get to his season ending average of .219. Guzman finished the season with 100 hits exactly, 27 of which came after September 1st. Guzman finished with an on-base percentage WAY below .300, and a slugging just barely over .300. In the field, Guzman was lackluster, committing 15 errors and finishing with a below average range factor.
In the end, the only thing preventing Guzman from winning the NL Least Valuable Player was the fact that expectations weren't that high in the first place.
Vinny signed as free agent following a re-breakout year in Colorado, and was a pitiful failure with the Nats. He failed to come close to last season's production; in some categories he failed to even amass half the totals from 2004. Truth be told, anyone would half a brain would have seen this coming, and thus Vinny probably misses on the LVP.
Pedro "The Secret Weapon" Feliz
This year's Kingman award winner. Asked to step into the void left by Barry Bonds, all Feliz managed to do was finish with an OBP under .300 and decline in every major category, including hitting fewer homeruns than last season. He hit into as many double plays as he hit homeruns, 20. He led the team in strikeouts and had the fewest walks per at-bat of any player on the team. The Giants won 16 fewer games this season than last despite the false faith placed in "the Secret Weapon" at the beginning of the season.
Corey "Tools" Patterson
Remember Patterson 2004? 24 homeruns and 32 stolen bases? A career high in hits, runs, doubles, homeruns, RBI, and walks? Corey was supposed to have a fantastic year this year. He would go 30/30. This would be his breakout year offensively, and he would patrol centerfield with a sure glove after committing only 1 error and 8 outfield assists. This season, as a 25 year old veteran, he would become an all-star.
Well, as all Cubs fans know, Corey not only failed to meet expectations but somehow apparently forgot how to play the game of baseball. Instead, he played so bad he got sent down to the minors at mid-season. His slugging percentage dipped to .348, and his on-base percentage was simply embarrassing at .254. His OPS+ was a historically hilarious 56. Corey was flat out terrible.
Remember 2003, when Mike Lowell hit 32 homeruns and 105 RBI in only 130 games. Last year, he hit only 27 homeruns, but raised his average and on-base percentage and set a career high in total bases.
This year, the Florida Marlins finished 83-79, 7 games out of the Braves. But for a 5-12 finish, the Marlins may have found themselves in the playoffs. One can only wonder how the season may have gone different if Lowell had not been so terrible. Despite getting 500 at-bats, Lowell accounted for only 114 runs plus RBI. His OPS dropped into the 650s. His OPS+ dropped 50 points. One can only wonder if another 30 RBI and another 30 runs might have garnered 7 more wins for the Florida Marlins this season.
Interestingly, for the second time in 4 seasons, Lowell had exactly as many RBI as strikeouts. Last time it was 92. This time it was 58. As much as the Marlins probably appreciated Lowell's decrease in strikeouts, I am sure they would trade the strikeouts for the homers any day of the week.
Not only that, but his presence on the team managed to keep the Marlins from bringing up Joe Dillon or Josh Willingham.
When it comes down to it, what the voters are looking for in an LVP is a player's contribution to preventing his team's success. The big winner in a race like this is one whose team had a legitimate shot at success, one who was the primary star on his team, and one who failed to meet legitimately high expectations.
In the end, even before the play of Castilla and Guzman, the Nats overachieved to win 81 games this year. Injuries to starting pitching and Nomar Garciaparra had more to do with the Cubs failings than did Corey Patterson's terribleness. As much as we like to poke fun, no one expected Feliz to replace Bonds, and no one expected to Giants to be very good without Bonds period. And while the Marlins could have used some more production out of Mike Lowell, the collapse of their starting pitching down the stretch had as much to do with their failures as anything else.
Carlos Beltran, by contrast, fits the mold of the LVP to a tee. Carlos was a much ballyhooed free agent acquisition for the Mets this year. The number one catch of the free agent class, Beltran signed with the Mets for seven years, $119 million. But Carlos did little to meet expectations and did much to disappoint for the Mets in 2005. After nearly going 40/40 last season, Beltran declined dramatically, finishing 16/17 in 151 games, and failing to score 100 runs and/or RBI for the first time in his career. He did not hit for power, he did not display speed, he did not hit for average, he did not get on base, and he did not move base runners.
Other factors besides Carlos' mere awful statistical showing also impact his candidacy. While Beltran was slumped, other Mets players were performing above expectations. Cliff Floyd reemerged as a star this season, playing in more than 150 games for the second time in his career and becoming a legitimate run producer again. 22 year olds David Wright and Jose Reyes each played 160 games with the big club, and emerged as prominent young stars. Imagine what the Mets lineup would have been like with Reyes and Wright hitting 1-2, and Cliff Floyd batting cleanup behind the Carlos Beltran of 2004.
Further, Carlos contributed negatively to his team in yet another, nearly tragic way. When the Mets acquired Carlos Beltran, it was announced that he would be playing centerfield, which meant that Gold Glove centerfielder Mike Cameron would be moving to right field. Then, after moving the superior centerfielder to right, Beltran took Cameron out of the game completely on August 11th, when the two of them collided in a game, breaking several bones in Cameron's face and ending his season.
The Mets, like the Marlins, finished 83-79, 7 games out behind the Braves. Imagine a Mets team coming down the stretch with a lineup of Reyes, Cameron, Beltran '04, Floyd, and Wright, with an outfield, left to right, of Floyd, Cameron, and Beltran. It would have been a formidable offense, and a good defense, a team which may have been able to win the division, or at least squeak through with the wildcard. In the end, his inexplicable decline and the Mets failed expectations made Carlos Beltran the 2005 National League Least Valuable Player.